Rundown apartments allowed under city minimum housing codes
MANCHESTER, NH — Housing code regulations enforced in the city are minimum standards designed to protect health and safety, according to a building department official.
They don’t necessarily address what an average person would consider to be catastrophic conditions in an apartment.
Michael Landry, deputy director of building regulations in the city’s planning and community development, said housing codes are minimum standards designed to “protect life and safety.”
He said that means an apartment must have working smoke alarms, exits not blocked by litter, deck railings and proper stairways. Landry said that in the past, people stored items in hallways, blocking exits.
Some important items covered by the residential rental property code include house-powered smoke detectors in each unit, common hallway, basement, and attic; mosquito nets and storm windows; lead paint and sanitation.
The codes cover health and safety, Landry said, and mean an apartment must have running water and proper sanitation.
The issue regarding housing codes has been raised as some tenants of apartment buildings known as West Side Seven are being evicted.
All seven buildings, some 6-unit buildings and some four-unit buildings, have a history of housing code violations. The buildings, six of which are over 100 years old while the seventh was built in 1940, are located at: 358 Montgomery St.; 416 Rimmon Street; 352 Dubuque Street; 55-57 Cleveland Street; 599-601 Hevey Street; 200 Reed Street and 293 Amory Street.
The buildings were purchased for $4.2 million on October 27, 2021 by ARAA West Side Holdings of Chester from Shelley Carita of Meredith.
At the time, the building on Hevey Street did not have a certificate of compliance – it expired on August 23, 2021 – and should not have been sold, according to housing code regulations.
Usually it’s a bank or mortgage lender who finds out a building doesn’t have a certificate, a housing official said.
Once issued, a certificate of conformity is valid for three years and when a building is sold, it stays with it. The new owner, however, must file a transfer of ownership with the city which incurs a $50 fee. A transfer permit application is also required if a property with outstanding violations is bought or sold. This allows the new owner to take possession of the property with responsibility for the violations found.
Landry said the Hevey Street case has been reopened with an inspection scheduled for August 2.
Since the ARAA purchased the seven buildings, Landry said the owner has been making repairs as complaints arise.
A review of housing code records for these buildings shows that past and current owners have made or are making repairs when cited. Certificates of Compliance are valid for three years, at which time the property must be re-inspected.
Citations for buildings vary: a leaky water heater; broken windows; necessary screens; damaged bulkhead doors; a damaged toilet seat; the need to replace water-damaged ceiling tiles, a suspended smoke detector; a damaged septic tank and for having rented the apartments without a certificate of conformity because they were outdated and the buildings needed to be re-inspected.
As a tour of apartments in buildings on Dubuque and Cleveland streets shows, a certificate can apparently be obtained even when an apartment is run down due to years of little or no upkeep or upkeep, that is i.e. painting walls and woodwork, replacing worn floors or carpeting, updating appliances, etc.
At 352 Dubuque Street, a tenant complained in June of this year of sewage leaking in her apartment due to a damaged septic tank.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened. On Aug. 26, 2021, Code Enforcement Officer Matthew Cogsell noted in the filing that, “According to the tenant, when heavy rains occur, sewage rises through the wash pipe, tub, and sink.” The record does not indicate if anything was done about it.
Roots from a tree damaged the pipe and former owner, Shelley Carita of Meredith, had Roto-Rooter clean the line twice a year because she knew she was going to sell the building, according to the former property manager Janet Aldrich.
After sewage leaked into her apartment for the third time in June this year and the landlord did nothing to fix it, Crystal Tejeda Soto filed a complaint with the building department on June 30. Landry said it was a sewer problem, and ARAA fixed the pipe five days later, July 5, at a cost of $22,000.
The building at 55-57 Cleveland St., where Audrey Rackliff lives with her husband and son, was cited for housing code violations, some dating back to 2001. Last September, the landlord was cited for 32 violations, including understood the need to repair and replace windows throughout the building; replacing a broken window in a living room and repairing the window so that it opens correctly; repair the rear hall door so that it functions properly and locks securely; repair and replace hard-wired smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, among others.
After making repairs, a certificate of conformity was issued on January 5, 2022 and expires on September 8, 2024.
The filing also indicates that Identity Pest Control is treating the building for cockroaches at a monthly cost of $135.
It’s hard to believe the building is up to housing code when the apartment is drab, the walls are slanting, and drywall screws are holding the ceiling tiles in place in the living room. At 1:00 p.m. on a sunny July afternoon, the apartment was so dark that the lights had to be turned on to be able to read.
Rackliff’s rent was raised to $1,500 in January, an increase of $600 a month for the rundown two-bedroom apartment. When she was able to make the payment, with the help of the New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program, she received an eviction notice citing the need for renovations. She is appealing a decision of the Circuit Court in favor of her landlord.
This article is shared by The Granite State News Collaborative, as part of its Race and Equity Initiative. It was co-produced by GSNC and its partners NH Public Radio and Manchester Ink Link. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.
RESOURCES FOR TENANTS AND OWNERS
Call 2-1-1 for assistance
Visit CapNH.org to find your local Community Action Partnership (CAP) agency
603 Legal Aid
New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program